Pubdate: Sun, 15 May 2016
Source: Kuwait Times (Kuwait)
Copyright: 2016 Kuwait Times Newspaper


Fed up with drug-related violence, a growing number of Mexican 
politicians see one potential cure: Legalizing the cultivation of 
opium poppies for the production of medicine. The debate has emerged 
in recent weeks after President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed 
legislation in April to loosen marijuana laws by legalizing medical 
cannabis and easing restrictions on its recreational use. Since then, 
governors and congressional lawmakers have voiced their support for 
regulating opium poppies, which are often grown by farmers in poor 
areas of the country and sold to cartels as the raw material for heroin.

The idea was launched by Hector Astudillo, governor of the southern 
state of Guerrero, which has the country's highest murder rate amid 
turf wars among drug cartels battling for control of the mountains 
where US-bound heroin is born. Astudillo, whose state is the biggest 
producer of opium poppies, proposed a pilot program for the crop's 
cultivation for medical uses. Graco Ramirez, governor of the 
neighboring crime-plagued state of Morelos, which is a transit route 
for the drug, voiced his support. "In (the northwestern state of ) 
Sinaloa and Guerrero, growing opium poppies is a fact of life and we 
must take it away from the criminals and give it to health," Ramirez said.

Government Prepares Bill?

Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, the national commissioner against drug 
addiction, said that his agency is "deeply studying the use of opium 
gum as medicine, its transformation into morphine and its derivatives 
as painkillers". While Mondragon did not indicate whether the 
government was drafting some kind of legislation, El Universal 
newspaper said Wednesday, citing presidency sources, that the 
government was working on a proposal to send to Congress by the end 
of the year.

Pena Nieto's spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, told AFP that he had "no 
idea about this information" in the newspaper while Health Minister 
Jose Narro told reporters that Congress must first focus on the 
marijuana bill. One backer of such a measure, Senator Miguel Romo, of 
Pena Nieto's centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said 
opium poppies are regulated in "a very efficient way" in some 
countries where it is legal for medical uses, such as Spain.

Australia, France, Turkey, Hungary and India also grow opium poppies 
legally for the pharmaceutical industry under international licenses. 
Senator Roberto Gil, of the conservative National Action Party, said 
that it "is stupid" that Mexico cannot use opium poppies for medical 
purposes when it is one of the world's major producers of the crop.

Heroin Too Profitable

But for Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert at the National 
Autonomous University of Mexico, such a measure would not reduce 
violence in Guerrero because the illegal heroin market in the United 
States will always be too lucrative for cartels to give it up. "The 
profit from the illegal drug is much, much higher than any legal 
cultivation, even if it is very profitable," he told AFP. In January, 
a farmer told AFP in an interview at his small opium poppy field that 
a parcel owner could sell a kilogram of opium gum for $925. A farmer 
hired to cut the bulbs to extract the sticky substance can make $16 
per day, four times the minimum wage.

Between 15 and 25 kilograms of the raw material are needed to make 
just one kilogram of heroin, which drug dealers buy for around 
$50,000 in the United States. Residents from poppy growing 
communities in Guerrero joined a protest organized by taxi and truck 
drivers last month in the state's capital, Chilpancingo, which ended 
in violence with 71 people arrested. Some of the protesters demanded 
that the army stop fumigating opium poppies. - AFP
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom